History of Grant County



In Pursuance of an Act of Congress of the United States, recommending that a Historical Sketch of every County and Town in the United States be prepared and read on the 4th day of July of our Centennial year, copies of which were to be filed in the Clerk’s offices of the respective counties, and also in the Librarian’s office in Washington City, to furnish historical data and incidents from which to write a correct General History of the United States, the people of Grant County held a meeting at the Court House on the 12th day of June, 1876, to determine in what manner they would celebrate the approaching 4th of July, and to arrange a programme in accordance with said Act, they decided to have a “good old-fashioned basket picnic” about one quarter of a mile south of Dry Ridge, in the Anderson Grove, now owned by Judge O. P. Hogan, to which all were invited to attend and bring their “baskets well filled.” Urial Harrison was chosen to read the declaration of Independence, Judge J. M. Collins and I. L. Schwabacker to deliver Orations, and the author to prepare and read a Historical Sketch of Grant County. For our part of the exercises we have an apology. Our sketch is necessarily and materially incomplete, from the fact that only a few days were allowed us, and from which we could only snatch a few stray hours now and then from other business, to gather the historical data of a county fifty-six years old; and further, from the fact that the forty or fifty minutes accorded to us for the reading, would not permit a full and detailed history, and forbid the recording of many incidents that interestingly claimed our attention while engaged in the work, and especially forbid all biographical sketches or notices. To Chas. W. Porter, Wm. Conrad, J. J. Daniels, Robt. Elliston, sr., Judge O. P. Hogan, and Mrs. Mary A. Fenley, all of whom have lived in the county since its formation, we gratefully acknowledge our indebtedness for much information we could not otherwise have obtained, and to whom we are more than thankful for the warm interest they manifested in our behalf. We are also indebted to the personal kindness of Richard H. Collins, author of the History of Kentucky, for the dates used in the beginning, from 1772 until the formation of Pendleton county. With these explanations and apologies we hope the critic will be lenient, and if our sketch should but slightly meet the approval of those who have heard or may read it, we are amply compensated for the labor bestowed in obtaining the facts therein recorded.

R. H. E.
July 31, 1876.

The History of Grant County

Ladies and Gentleman:

It is always a pleasant and an agreeable task to acknowledge a favor, hence it is a very great pleasure in acknowledging our obligations and gratitude for the favor and compliment in promoting us to the position of historian on this occasion, but our duty to say that the responsibility and amount of labor required in so short a time as was given us, are too great for one whose acquaintance with the history of the county was so limited as ours.

The History of Grant County, if written in full, instead of being contained in a small essay that could be read on an occasion like this, would fill quite a volume, and, consequently, we only have endeavored to give a tolerably minute history of its formation and character of its early inhabitants, and then a brief sketch of its material improvements up to the present day.

In the Beginning, Part of Virginia

All the present State of Kentucky, one hundred years ago, was a part of a single county of Old Virginia, named Fincastle. In 1776 this matronly old county of Fincastle, that enclosed within her boundary lines the territory upon which States were destined to be formed, was extinguished by the division of that territory into three counties, Washington, Montgomery and Kentucky. In 1780, the county of Kentucky was subdivided into three divisions, each taking the name of a county, Jefferson, Lincoln and Fayette. In June, 1792, this territory was formed into a State, having been previously further subdivided into counties. So that while the territory of Kentucky was a part of the State of Virginia, what is not Grant county was first a part of Fincastle county, formed 1772; then a part of Kentucky county formed 1776; then a part of Fayette county formed 1780; then a part of Woodford County formed 1789. Before another change was made Kentucky was admitted into the Union as a State, and in September, 1792, the territory of Grant became a part of Scott county, of the State of Kentucky. Then a part of Bracken and Campbell counties, the latter formed 1794; then a part of Pendleton county, formed in 1798, in which latter connection it remained for twenty-two years.

Thus it appears that Grant county is the child of many foster mothers. But the time came at last when she attained her majority, so to speak; not with the secret, shrinking reluctance of the maiden, who sees the last roseate summer of her “blushing teens” receding from her, but with all the gushing, animating pride of the ambitious youth, who counts the last minutes of the last hour that free him from parental restraint and allow him to go forth in the world and manage his own concerns.

Grant was once part of Pendleton County

We all seem to know by intuition that Grant was taken from Pendleton. Her identity does not seem to extend further back, and hence it was not uncommon formerly, when Grant, from any political or sectional cause, showed symptoms of waywardness, for Pendleton to assume the old responsibility of a good mother and urge her, by much kindly advice from her abundant store, to follow, and learn from the example of her maternal friend and guide; but Grant, be it said to her credit, has always had a will of her own, and has reared sons and daughters with capacity and energy to execute that will. The formation of Grant county was talked of long before the people then enclosed within the Territory realized the bright dream that constituted them an independent people. It was exceedingly inconvenient for them to attend their courts at Falmouth and transact all the business of so large a territory, necessary to be transacted at the county seat. And if there is an alleviating circumstance which the historian can now discover for the onerous responsibility in the discharge of their duty as citizens and loyal subjects of their county, it is the romance connected therewith. At this day it was a circumstance that was probably animating and gratifying to the heart of a good citizen whose patience and endurance were trained by the hardihood of pioneer life, to accouter himself in his buck-skin trowsers, his moccasins, his coon-skin cap, sling over his shoulder, his bullet pouch and powder-horn, take up his rifle and start upon his journey to Falmouth through the long, dismal woods, a distance of perhaps thirty miles, to answer the suit of Mr. A. or Mr. B. in some trivial matter or controversy; or perhaps this long tour had to be made in order to have spread upon the Books of the Court of Record, to be known by all men that his stock-mark was a “crop and under it out of the right ear and a swallow fork out of the left ear.” This was romance; but people weary of romance as well as of other good things when protracted too long.

Formation of New County not without controversy

Upon the issue of the formation of a new county a very strong and heated contest was made for the Representative in the year 1819. Those desiring a new county brought out for their candidate, Mr. William Littell, a clear and worthy gentleman, and a brother of James Littell, now one of our oldest citizens. The opposing candidates were, Elijah McClannahan and Dr. John Bennett. Mr. Littell was very warm in behalf of the new county and pledged his very ears to his people that should he be elected, to never let the Legislature rest until the fondest wish of himself and his friends was realized. The people knowing that Mr. Littell thought a good deal of his ears, and believing that he would work to the last moment to save them, elected him by a majority of about forty votes. True to his promise, no Legislature was ever more frequently and earnestly reminded of a local bill than was this Legislature of Mr. Littell’s bill for the new county. After much delay and opposition the bill was finally passed by the Lower House and sent up to the Senate. Here it met with opposition from Jesse Bledsoe, a Senator from Bourbon county. Mr. Bledsoe was a prominent member and had a pet bill of his own for an appropriation to Transylvania University, which has been bitterly opposed by Mr. Littell. Being a bluff, humorous old gentleman, he told Mr. Littell that if he would “vote for the appropriation in the Lower House, the bill for the new county should be pushed through the Senate, but if he wouldn’t vote for it Grant county might go to h---, and he (Mr. Littell) could go home and be cropped.” Mr. Littell, realizing the terrible dilemma in which he was placed, concluded to vote for the appropriation, which he did. His bill was then passed through the Senate, and on the 12th day of February, 1820, was approved by the Governor. This was the sixty-seventh county formed in the State and contained then all the territory that it now has, except a small strip added from Campbell county in 1830, a larger strip (about twelve square miles) from Harrison in 1833, another small strip from Boone in 1868, and that territory which was cut off from Owen and annexed to Grant at the last session of the Legislature. The county is now a parallelogram in shape, nearly square, and contains about four hundred and sixty square miles. In the bill creating the county it was provided that the new county should be called and known by the name of Grant. As to the reason it took the name of Grant there are various and conflicting opinions. It is said by some of the oldest inhabitants that owing to Mr. Littell’s repeated efforts with the Legislature to grant him a hearing on his pet bill, that the word “Grant” became in connection therewith quite a stereotyped phrase or saying, and hence when the bill was finally called up, out of a facetious spirit some member had “Grant” inserted for its name. But the best founded opinion, in our judgment, is that it was named in honor of General Squire Grant, a prominent citizen of Boone county and who was a very particular and warm friend of Mr. Littell.

First Court; Tavern Rates Established

In the bill it was provided that the county should have seven Justices of the Peace, who should meet at the house of Henry Chiders, still standing on the west side of the turnpike, about one hundred and fifty yards below the Old Childers Farm, now owned by Judge O. P. Hogan, and hold the first Court. The new county was to still vote with Pendleton in the election of a Representative. It was further provided that John H. Rudd, of Bracken county, John Curry, James R. Curry, and Robert Huston, of Harrison county, Garrett Wall, and John T. Johnson, of Scott county, act as Commissioners to locate and fix upon a permanent site for the new county seat.

It was now that the people of Grant county began to taste some of the bitter of the proposition that was so dear to their hearts. A large territory has been cut off to them—the western half of Pendleton county—the most remarkable featured of which were its boundless forests and scattering population. They were without a Court House, without a Jail, without any public building, and the most significant of all, without wealth. “Tis true that there were owners of large bodies of land, but that did not then constitute wealth, as it now does, for it could be bought in any quantities for the pitiful price of 12 ½ c per acre. But our rough old pioneer fathers had lived in the woods too long, as the saying is, to be scared at an owl, and they did not fear or try to shirk a responsibility. They fought through their financial difficulties with a courage that was truly surprising. Contrary to the present custom of all counties, towns and corporations, they did not issue bonds upon which they borrowed money to meet the financial demands before them, but true to their sturdy, iron-willed principles, levied a poll tax of four dollars per tithe the first year, at the expiration of which time there was sufficient money in the hands of the Sheriff to pay almost two thirds of their present and prospective indebtedness for the erection of public buildings and the completion of public improvements. According to the best information we can get from the public records, there were in the first year of the county’s existence about three hundred and fifty tithesmen. This number, multiplied by five, (being the rule generally adopted by statisticians) would give a population of 1750.

In pursuance of the Act, Jediah Ashcraft, Wm. Layton, Nathaniel Henderson, Wm. Woodyard, Samuel Simpson, John Sipple and Benj. McFarland, who had received their commissions as the first Justices of the Peace of Grant county, met at the house of Henry Childers on the 12th of April, 1820, and constituted the first Court held in the county. Mr. William Arnold, a farmer owning the land upon which Williamstown is now built, and of whom further notice will be made, having been commissioned by the Governor, was sworn in as first Sheriff, giving bond in the sum of $13,000. Hubbard B. Smith, of whom the people want no other history than the public record he has made for the county, was appointed Clerk of this Court during the period of his good behavior. It is a tribute, but justly deserving to this early and prominent citizen of Grant, to say that his good behavior continued for a long time, for having been appointed Clerk of the Circuit Court at its first session on the same conditions he held, and faithfully discharged the duties of both offices for nineteen years. He was an uncle of our present distinguished lawyer and citizen, E. H. Smith. At this Court, Simon Nichols was qualified as first Coroner of the county, and Wm. Mt. Joy and John Marksbury recommended to the Governor to be commissioned as the first surveyors, that being a profession in that day of considerable dignity and demand. The county at this time was divided into four Constable precincts, designated as First, Second, Third and Fourth, and Lewis M. Simpson, James Childers, Joseph Childers and Robert Elliston were, respectively, appointed and sworn in as Constables, each giving bond in the sun of two thousand dollars. In January, 1821, the Third Precinct was divided into two, and in March, another precinct was made out of the First and Second, making in all, six precincts, which number was not changed until 1874, since when three other precincts have been made. At this first term of Court there were tavern license granted to Samuel Simpson, Wm. Pierce, James Gouge, William Arnold and Henry Childers. There was also a list of tavern rates fixed which will enable us to draw some idea of the difference between the taverns of that day and this. It was ordered that breakfast, dinner and supper be had for twenty-five cents each; lodging, 12 ½ c; horse, to fodder and hay, per night, 25c; corn and oats, per gallon, 12 ½ c; pasturage, per night, 6 ¼ c; whiskey or brandy per half pint, 12 ½ c; run, French brandy, or wine, per half pint, 50c; cider or beer per quart, 12 ½ c. From these facts we can learn also that it did not cost a man much money to brighten his ideas with a few swigs of that “precious article,” a custom to which the generous good natures of our pioneer fathers caused them to be slightly addicted. On the 12th day of June, 1820, (it being the second County Court) the Commissioners appointed, in the Act to locate the county seat, reported that they had located the same on the farm of Wm. Arnold. Strangers, in passing through our county, and seeing there are other more favorable locations for a town, often wonder and ask why the location of Williamstown was selected for the county seat. It was not from the reason that no other site was examined, for we are informed by Charles W. Porter, whose extensive information and vivid memory of the early history of our county are actually surprising, that the Commissioners were at work for several days and examined all the favorable places for many miles north of Williamstown before they finally determined upon the present site. There are two circumstances that induced them to locate the town where they did. The large spring just below the Court House now known as the Public Spring, was the first natural feature that recommended the present site. It was a custom peculiar to all our first settlers that, in looking out locations to build, they always sought a place convenient to a spring of natural water, in many instances entirely disregarding the quality and location of the land; and this idea seems to have prevailed to a considerable extent with the Commissioners. The digging of wells and cisterns, especially the latter, to obtain a supply of water, was an idea not comprehended by many of our first settlers, and it was a long time after the “water-wizard” came around with his formed switch, “bobbing” and “dipping” here and there, before the people could be made believe there was truth in his mysterious art, and began to search in the bowels of the earth for the hidden fountains.

But perhaps the stronger reason for the present location of the town is that Mr. Arnold, being a liberal and zealous citizen and anxious for the town to be built on his premises, obligated himself by an article of agreement that if the Commissioners would locate the town on his land, to donate to the County one acre and a half of land on which to erect the public buildings, and to furnish to the County and to all persons purchasing lots from him, building timber for the period of three years free of charge, and all the firewood and stone necessary to be used for seven years. This proposition was considered very liberal and magnanimous of Mr. Arnold, and was accordingly accepted by the Commissioners—Mr. Arnold donating the one-acre lot on which the Court House now stands, and a one-half acre lot near where the present Methodist Church stands, on which the first jail was erected. And the new county-seat, on the day this report was received, was ordered to be called Philadelphia, the glory of which name it was destined to be shorn at the expiration of one month, for at that time it was discovered that there was another town in Kentucky by that name, and to prevent disaster of getting the two towns mixed, it was thought proper and wise by the Court to change the name of our town; and, hence, it was entered upon the records that the seat of justice should be called Williamstown—taking the baptismal name of William Arnold, who might properly be called its founder. After the second term the County Court was held at the house of Mr. Arnold until December, 1821, at which time the first Court was held in the new Court House, which was then completed.

First Circuit Court

The first Circuit Court was held at the house of Henry Childers on the 5th day of May, 1820, Hon. John Trimble presiding. The Grand Jury of this Court were John Marksbury, foreman; Dixon Tongate, John Crook, Daniel Seward, Robert Childers, Richard Lucas, Perry Chipman, Bennett Williams, Zachariah Hogan, Lewis Gregory, John Norton, Ichabod Ashcraft, James Reed, Absalom Skirvin, John Rowland, and Thomas Thomas. This Court adjourned on the day it convened, having transacted all the business, the Grand Jury making three indictments—one against the County Court for not having the County divided into road precincts and overseers appointed.

New Court House

The new Court House was built by William Arnold for the sum of $2,199, paid in three equal annual installments. It was a brick building, two stories high, thirty four feet long by thirty feet wide. The first floor twelve feet high, and the second eight feet. The bar was elevated eighteen inches above the lobby or audience floor, and the “Judge’s Bench,” as it was called, two feet higher than this. The lobby floor was made of brick, closely laid and cemented together. From the bar ascended the flight of stairs to the jury rooms above. This was held to be an ample and commodious building—the sanctum over which the goddess of Justice was to preside and inspire the long successive line of law interpreters and dispensers with the knowledge of the distinction between right and wrong.

First Jail

The first jail was built by Absalom Skirvin for $220. It was sixteen feet square, and was built of hewed logs, dovetailed and let down one upon the other. This jail was two stories high, and had two small windows in each story. There was also a “stray pen” built on the public ground for the purpose of holding all the stray stock that was taken up. This was thirty feet square, and enclosed by a post-and-rail fence.

Williamstown, at this time, could boast of but three houses except the Court House and jail—that of Wm. Arnold, situated near where Robert McDuffee now live; the small log house of P. B. Hume, standing near the present post-0ffice, in which there was a tavern kept by Wm. Mt. Joy; and another log house, built by James Conyers, just below.

The principal settlements in the county extended from Williamstown north to below Dry Ridge. Almost all the land in the county was owned by non-residents, who held the same under large patents. John Fowler, of Lexington, had a patent that covered all the land from just south of Williamstown to the residence of Lewis Myers, and extending east and west to within a few miles of the Pendleton and Owen county lines. The northern part of the county was covered by the patent of John and Jordan Harris’ forty-four thousand acres survey. The extreme western, and all the southern part of the county from Fowler’s survey, was covered by the patents of—Leach, May, Banister & Co. and Josiah Watson; and the eastern part of the county was covered by the Moody patent. These patents were not well defined, but overlapped each other, which afterwards gave rise to many large suits in the Courts that furnished rich food for the lawyers and gave to the county a noted reputation for land litigation. It was this character of litigation that gave Lewis Myers, who was a citizens of this county from its formation until his decease in April, 1870, the most extensive reputation as a land-jobber in Northern Kentucky. His correct knowledge of the multitudes of old lines of surveys, and his clear and positive memory of numbers and dates were wonderful, and though he was constantly enrolled upon the docket of the Courts for many years, as either plaintiff or defendant, in almost all the important land suits, he was warm-hearted and generous to a fault, and much beloved by his people, representing them as many as four times in the Legislature of Kentucky. But while the central part of the county was settled sparsely by men who had either bought or leased the land on which they lived, almost all the rest of the county was settled only by “squatters,” or families who owned no land, but took up their residence where they chose, erected small cabins in which to live, cleared and cultivated as much ground as they thought proper. These little patches of cleared land were called “improvements,” and were bartered and sold with as much freedom as cattle and hogs.

Hunting is the Chief Enterprise

It is not strange, under these circumstances, that the people cultivated and displayed but little taste in their dress and in the erection of dwelling houses. The chief occupation, of many of them, was hunting, in which they found a peculiar delight and pleasure, and when wearied and worn out with their pursuit of the deer, which abounded plentifully in the hills and valleys now covered by luxuriant meadows and cornfields, they cared but little what kind of houses received them on their return so they were sheltered from the wolves and storms. If the hunter’s cabin was large enough to contain a pallet for himself, his wife and his children, a few chairs, a table, (perhaps on which he venison was spread), and more than all, if sitting away in one corner there was a jug or even a barrel of “Old Bourbon,” it was a home of luxury to him.

Grant county, like all pioneer counties, had famous hunters, the bullets of whose unerring rifles never failed to bring down the “deer” or the “turkey.” It is amusing to think now how fond they were of these old flint-lock hunting pieces. They held them in their hearts as something a little less dear than their wives or their children, and fondled them and called them by pet names as though they were objects with life and could talk and smile when their masters would jump to their feet for “Old Sally” or “Old Betsey” as a deer would go bounding by. The popular ambition of that day was not cultivating fields, erecting fine houses, raising fine cattle, hogs and sheep, and training blooded horses, but to satisfy their innate love for hunting and sporting, and to excel in personal attainments, such as foot-racing, wrestling, pitching quoits, etc. And if there was a personal difficulty to be settled between two or more persons, it was generally adjusted by the very pleasant and satisfactory way of knocking each other down a few times, and then “drinking each other’s health over the result; for this was a day when whiskey made men drunk without giving them delirium tremens, and they got sober again without being poisoned, and before the deadly Derringer was used to murder him who had offended his murderer.”

Early Development of Williamstown

But we must now notice briefly some of the material improvements of the county. In 1822 there were twenty-five acres of land condemned by Mr. Arnold for the town of Williamstown, which was surveyed and laid off in one fourth acre lots, and Wm. Arnold, William Littell, Wesley Williams, James Collins, Samuel Williams, Thomas Watson, and Absalom Skirvin were appointed the firs Trustees of the town. In 1827 the jail was removed to the place where it now stands, and put up in a manner similar to the first one, only the walls were double, and the space of six or eight inches between the logs was filled with broken stone. Several small wooden houses had now been erected in different parts of the town. The merchant had come, and a new era was to dawn upon the people of old-fashioned ideas and pioneer notions. This great man—the merchant—had a very limited supply at first, only dry goods, coarse cotton and calico, arranged on puncheon shelves, supported by wooden pins driven in auger holes that were bored in the wall, and a jug or two of that same “Old Bourbon” could be hid away under the puncheon floor, or just outside the door in the bushes, until a customer would indicate that he wanted a pint or so for family use. Better taste was now displayed by the people in their dress. The hunting-shirt was gradually laid aside; coarse shoes took the place of moccasins, and tow-linen breeches and the dresses of the ladies, made of home manufactured material, were displaced by fabrics of a more costly character. People began to settle here who had been trained by different manners and accustomed to different scenes, and they infused into the pioneers a spirit of improvement.

Early Development of Crittenden and Dry Ridge

Crittenden had now attained sufficient proportions to be called a town. The first settler there was David Cooper, who lived there, near where the Sechrest Hotel now stands, at the time of the formation of the county. The first store in the town was built by Captain John W. Fenley, in which goods were sold by Dr. Samuel Singleton. A carpenter by the name of ----- Groom, who lived there, and who was of a drinking, waggish disposition, gave the town the name of “Pin-Hook”—a name that it bore until the year 1834, when Mrs. Mary A. Fenley, wife of Capt. John W. Fenley, gave it the name of Crittenden, after the Hon. John J. Crittenden, who was then Kentucky’s most popular statesman. The history of Crittenden is that of a pleasant and enterprising little village of refined and cultivated people. Like almost all other country towns, it has been several times partially destroyed by fire. It now has a population of about 400, and, perhaps, the largest and best assorted dry goods store in the county. R. L. Collins has a large steam corn and flouring mill that is second to no other institution of the kind in the county. The first settler in Dry Ridge was James Theobald, and its favorable locality has made it quite a thorough-going little town, and since the construction of the Cincinnati Southern Railroad, bids fair to rival both Crittenden and the county-seat in point of business.

Further Development of Williamstown

The growth of Williamstown contains no event of special interest until the year 1856. At that time there had been erected a row of wooden buildings on either side of Main street—scarcely a brick edifice to be seen in town. A child of Mr. Samuel Marksbury was amusing himself in the basement story of his father’s house, then standing where Mr. Lucas has his grocery, by burning some combustible material, when the building took fire. The flames spread up and down the street, destroying every house and tenement on the west side from where P. T. Zinn’s store now stands to Mill street, and on the east side from John H. Webb’s store to several houses below the residence of E. H. Smith. This was the first fatal disaster to the county seat, and thirty families were in a few minutes rendered destitute and homeless by this terrible fire-fiend. Contributions were raised for the sufferers, and the people all over the county contributed liberally. Judge O. P. Hogan made speeches in Georgetown, Frankfort and Lexington, whose people subscribed as much as seven hundred dollars to the unfortunate ones in our midst. Three thousand dollars were soon raised in their behalf, and it was not long until the clink of the hammer was heard and the mason and carpenter were busy in erecting new and better houses on the burnt ground, so that in a few years all the lots on Main street, once covered by old wooden buildings—excellent rat harbors and food for flames—were now occupied by good and substantial houses.


In 1864 a second fire destroyed the wooden tavern building of James Collins, on the corner of Main and Cynthiana streets; also destroying many small tenements connected therewith. The old stable and a few stock pens and corn cribs connected with the building, and that were not burnt, were torn down, and upon the lots thus made vacant were erected by the present owners and occupants the “Johnson House” and the residence of Dr. J. M. Wilson, the one a well-planned and commodious hotel, and the other a convenient and handsome mansion.

Still another fire, in 1867, swept away the wooden mill of Cunningham & Harrison, on Second Cross street, which was replaced by the present brick building of D. L. Cunningham, as a steam corn and flouring mill and carding machine, the first of the kind built in the town. The spirit of utility and enterprise thus awakened prompted the erection of the Town Hall. It is a handsome three-story brick building, and was built in 1870. On the Public Square stands the Court House, which was built in 1852, and which took the place of the first one we described. The present Clerks offices were erected in 1866, and the present jail in the same year, all of which buildings have been subsequently carefully and conveniently repaired. Various other improvements have been made, among the number we have a steam planning mill, and a High School or Academy, until Williamstown is now one of the most thorough, energetic, and thriving little cities in Northern Kentucky.

Grant County Newspapers

The first newspaper printed in Grant county was the Williamstown News, published by E. S. Moore in the year 1872. After an existence of six months, for want of support and proper management, it was found necessary to suspend its publication, and the News ceased to exist. The next step taken looking to the establishment of a newspaper in the county was the resuscitation of the old News office and the presentation to the public of the Grant County Bulletin. For a short time the Bulletin enjoyed a liberal support and was considered a permanent institution. Pecuniary embarrassment, however, rendered its suspension unavoidable, and after a life of one year it followed its predecessor. The next paper established was the Williamstown Sentinel, by Chas. B. Bradley, in 1874.The Sentinel was afterward transferred to W. N. Hogan, who transferred it to E. H. Eyer and Chas B. Bradley. Within the last year E. H. Eyer, by another transfer, has become the sole editor and proprietor, under whose energetic management it has become quite a newsy little sheet, receiving the hearty support of the people and is now, we hope, a fixed institution of the county.

Religious History of Grant County

In respect to the early religious and educational history of the county we have been able to gather only the following facts: For two or three years previous to the organization of the county, Elder Jerard Riley, of the Old Baptist Church, had been preaching to a congregation in a meeting-house which stood near the late location of the Free Will Baptist Church, one-fourth mile south of Dry Ridge. One of the earliest of his converts was the venerable Wm. Conrad, who is still living, and is well known throughout the county for the earnest zeal which he has for more than fifty years manifested.

The first itinerant Methodist preacher was Jesse Robinson, who lived on Crooked Creek, and for several years traveled over the county and preached in private houses. He organized the first Methodist congregation at the house of Clement Theobald, at or very near the present residence of John W. Clark. Christian Tomlin, father of Elder Asa Tomlin, first proclaimed the doctrine of the Free Will Baptist to the early inhabitants.

About the year 1827 one Barton Stone, of the sect then denominated New Lights, came down from Bourbon county several times and preached in the Court House at Williamstown. He was soon after followed by Elders John T. Johnson, a brother of Vice President R. M. Johnson, and John Smith, well known to many still living in the county as “Raccoon” John Smith, so-called from an anecdote which he loved to tell of having, on one occasion, been paid a marriage fee of $1.00 in coonskins at ten cents each! The sect for which they preached is now known as Christians, or Reformers.

At the time of the organization of the county there were only two meeting houses in its boundary—the Old Baptist Church near Dry Ridge, and the Methodist Church that is still standing on Forklick Creek.

The First Schools in Grant County

But two school-houses were in the county at this time. One of these was on Forklick Creek, near where Chas. W. Porter now lives. This house was built of small round logs, 14 x 16 feet, and covered by clapboards, which were retained in their position by heavy “weight poles.” It had a rough puncheon floor, and was profusely ornamented with puncheon benches, supported by legs made of round saplings driven in auger holes bored in them. Long wooden spikes or pins were driven in the logs around the wall on which the children hung their dinner baskets. The roof of this house was just high enough to admit the teacher and “big scholars” to walk under without striking their heads against the boards. There was no window, and but one doorway to which there was no door. James Williams taught school in this house. He had from twelve to sixteen scholars, and charged one dollar and a half per quarter. This was paid, one-half money and one-half in current produce—coonskins generally.

The other school-house was situated a little down the ridge from the residence of Esau Conrad. In this house Wm. Littell reigned as chief pedagogue for several sessions. What his emoluments were we have been unable to ascertain.

Previous to the formation of the county the Legislature of Kentucky had made an appropriation of a large number of acres of Green River land for the benefit of County Seminaries. When Grant county was formed she became entitled to a portion of this, and Mr. Arnold, always ready to promote the interest of the county and prompted by his true and laudable spirit of enterprise, undertook and built for the county her first Seminary for the consideration of that part of the Green River land to which the county was entitled. It was a brick building, one story high, and stood at or near the present residence of E. H. Smith. Schools were taught in this building for several years. Mr. L. Abenathy was one of the principal teachers. He had from thirty to forty scholars, and in the winter this number would be increased to sixty. The first debating society of the county was organized and held in this building. It was largely attended by the people of the county for many miles around, most of whom participated in the debates. This was kept up for several years, and many an evening the walls of this old building were made to echo with the ringing reverberations of pioneer eloquence. There are a few old persons now living in the county who made the first speeches of their lives in this building. After it had stood for about fifteen years the walls began to give way, and it was torn down, and Williamstown never again had another school that approached to the dignity of a High School or Seminary until 1874, when, through the energy of Messrs. J. H. Webb, W. F. Webb, T. M. Coombs, and Dr. J. M. Wilson, the present Academy was erected. This is a two-story frame building, constructed upon a modern plan, and well and conveniently furnished. The first school was taught in this, during the last school year, by Prof. L. V. Ware, of Georgetown, as principal, and Miss Katie Coombs, of Williamstown, as assistant teacher. Very Much credit is due to these two popular and efficient teachers in securing for this school in its infancy a brilliant reputation, and enhancing its bright prospects to a degree of certainty for a success in the future.

The first and only chartered school in the county was in Crittenden. This school was chartered in 1868 as the Crittenden Seminary, under the direction of Littleton Fenley, R. M. Ratcliff, F. T. Mansfield, A. F. Hogsett, J. Poor, Thomas Rouse, and their successors, as Trustees. Competent professors were employed for three or four years, but for some cause, it was suspended, and the building is now used by R. L. Collins for a steam flour mill, of which we have before made mention.

School Districts Established

The first division of the county into school districts was made in April, 1822, by an order of the County Court. The land of the Militia Company of Capt. Wm. Harrison composed District No. 1; of Capt. Wm. Hogan, District No. 2; of Capt. W. P. Thomas, District No. 3; of Capt. Chas. Ruddell, District No. 4; of Capt. James Elliston, District No. 5; of Capt. Andrew Myers, District No. 6. The school-houses and the schools taught in these several districts were similar to the first one we have described. In February, 1838, an Act was passed by the Legislature of Kentucky establishing a State system of Common Schools. This Act directed that the several County Courts appoint five Commissioners to lay the counties off into school districts, to contain not less than thirty nor more than one hundred children between the ages of seven and seventeen. In pursuance of this Act, Thomas Clark, James H. Robinson, R. L. Clements and T. J. Daniels, were appointed to assist the County Surveyor in laying off our county into school districts. Since this division many changes have been made in the boundaries, and several new districts formed. There are now fifty-three school districts and four thousand four hundred and seventy-three children, between the ages of six and twenty, reported by the Trustees.

Our common schools are now in a good working condition under the systematic and careful management of our present efficient Commissioner of Common Schools, H. D. Stratton.

We must not leave this subject without mentioning one of the most energetic and warm friends of popular education that the State has furnished, and who was a citizen of our county. We refer to Burwell Y. Carter, for many years Common School Commissioner of this county. He ably urged the remodeling of the school system, both by writing and speaking, and, especially, the increasing of the school fund by additional taxation. The people of Kentucky owe the passage of the recent law appropriating the additional fifteen cents to the hundred dollars for school purposes, probably as much to the zealous efforts of Mr. Carter as to any other men in the State. He never ceased to labor in behalf of the common schools and the diffusion of general education, for which he won the especial gratitude and warm friendship of the people of his county. He death, which occurred in 1874, was very much lamented by every one.

The Big Tree and the Poison Spring

Among the notable objects of Grant county was a large poplar tree, near Dry Ridge Baptist Church. It was nine feet in diameter, its magnificent trunk and branches towering far above the surrounding trees as the giant of the forest. Before it was cut down, in 1831, it was known by everybody as the “big tree.”

Another object of note was the “Poison Spring,” situated about one hundred yards north of Sherman. A family by the name of Wheeler, living at the place where Joseph Wayland now lives, and who used the water out of the spring, all took sick and died from some cause unknown then, but since supposed to have been milk-sickness. Many believed it was the water from the spring that killed them, and hence it took the name of the “Poison Spring,” and for many years it was regarded by the more superstitious and less enlightened people as a dangerous and even fatal place to pass.

The oldest man in the county is Rankin Blackburn. He is now in his one hundred and second year; is as straight as an arrow, and reads and writes without the use of spectacles.

General Marquis Lafayette comes to Grant County

We must not here forget to state that in the year 1824 General Marquis Lafayette, who, next to the Father of our Country, is dear in the hearts of the American people, passed through our county on his way from Lexington to Cincinnati in company with his son and private secretary, and Hon. W. T. Barry, the Postmaster General of the United States; Hon. Geo. M. Bibb, formerly Chief Justice of Kentucky, and afterward reporter for the Court of Appeals, and other distinguished persons, whose names we could not get. The party took breakfast at the house of Mr. Arnold, who was an officer in the Revolutionary War, and who received a severe wound at the battle of Yorktown at the time of the surrender of Lord Cornwallis. General Lafayette and Capt. Arnold know each other personally and were so overcome by emotion at their meeting that they fell upon each other’s necks and wept like brothers. After remaining with Capt. Arnold for several hours they passed on through the county and took dinner at the house of Littleton Robinson, about one-quarter of a mile above Crittenden, and now known as the widow Henderson Farm. The General greeted the people, who thronged to meet him along the road, with much cordiality and friendship. This is remembered by our oldest people as one of the proudest and happiest incidents in the history of our county.

The Lynching of 1841

In 1841 one of the most horrible attempted murders, and also one of the most severe examples of lynching, occurred in this county, of which history makes mention. John Utterback, a stock drover in the employ of some Bourbon county trader, was passing from Covington to his home in Bourbon when the horrible deed transpired, of which he was the victim. He had been secretly followed from the city by two desperadoes named Smith Maythes and Lyman Crouch, and was overtaken by them about three miles south of Williamstown on the Cynthiana road. Utterback was riding horseback and they were in a buggy. They drove up by his side and caught the bridle and demanded his money. Seeing he was attacked by two desperate looking men he attempted to force his horse by, when he was struck a heavy blow on the head either with the gun, which they had, or a heavy stick. This felled him from his horse, but he recovered in an instant, and then commenced a struggle for life and death. One of the men attempted to shoot him, but the gun “miss-fired.” Utterback was a man of powerful physical strength and endurance, and the struggle continued for several minutes before they were able to overcome him. Finally one of them succeeded in striking him again over the head with the gun, this time knocking him senseless. This was many yards from where the struggle commenced. One of them now drew a large knife and inflicted gash after gash across Utterback’s throat from ear to ear, until their most fiendish and wicked minds convinced them he was thoroughly dead. They found no money or valuables on his body. He was not the man, it was supposed, they had thought he was.

While the struggle was ensuing a Jew peddler happened to pass on horseback. As soon as he discovered the terrible fighting, and supposing his time was to come next, put spurs to his horse, never once halting or turning his head to learn the cause or nature of the struggle. Tam O’Shanter, in his fearful flight from the witches, did not urge his faithful mare, “Meg,” with more terrible anxiety and fear that did this son of Ishmael his panting steed. On he came, through Williamstown, and down the pike, holding to his wares as best he could with one hand and whipping with the other. From whence he came and whither he was bound he gave to the astonished people not the slightest indication. Maythes and Crouch seeing this man start upon his precipitous journey, and supposing he had gone to give information of what he had witnessed and fearing they would soon be overtaken, left their buggy and fled to the woods. In about an hour afterward Utterback was discovered. He was not dead, but had crawled up by the side of a tree, and was endeavoring to write in a small note-book the particulars of his attempted murder. In a few hours the whole country was aroused and in pursuit of the dastardly villains. About four o’clock the next evening they were found and captured in Pendleton county and brought to Williamstown and lodged in jail. Utterback was taken home, where he recovered from his wounds, and, it is said, is still living.

The would-be murderers became still more desperately infuriated when they were informed that Utterback was not dead; especially Maythes, who was the oldest and most wicked in crimes. He made many bitter threats while in jail—that he would burn the town and assassinate every man who aided in his capture. These threats were soon communicated over the county, and it needed but a breath of this kind to kindle in a positive and angry determination the disposition of the people to lynch them. One evening, after the prisoners had been in jail about three months, a crowd of about four hundred persons, composed of men from Pendleton, Harrison, Bourbon, Scott and Grant counties, assembled about one mile south of town, and there formed into a regular column, four abreast, and marched into town. The jailor hearing of their coming buried the keys. They marched into the Court House yard without saying a word. The people of the town attempted to dissuade them from their determined purpose, and eloquent speeches were made to them by Major James O’Hara, Edward Burthell and John W. McCann, pleading in the cause of justice, to allow her take her course in the courts, and that she would be sure to mete out to men guilty of such crime a just and rigid punishment. But these speeches were of no avail. A calm, unwavering determination sat brooding upon the countenance of every man. They asked if there was any one else who wishes to speak to them, when Rev. Josiah Whittaker came forward and knelt in their midst and offered up a fervent prayer, in which a last appeal was made that the prisoners might be spared a fate not contemplated by law and justice. Still they were unmoved. When he had finished they deliberately marched to the jail door and broke it down, took out the prisoners and conveyed them to the place where their crime was committed. Here a scaffold was erected and the prisoners were told they could have a short time to confess their crime, if they wished to, and to make peace with their God. They did confess the full particulars of the outrage, but their crime was too black and their hearts too keenly steeped in infamy to permit them to raise their voices and ask the forgiveness of a merciful Heaven. They stood mute, and ropes were placed around their necks, and they swung to the scaffold immediately over the place where their struggle with Utterback had ended. When the last vital spark of life had fled from their bodies, they were cut down and buried in graves dug by the roadside. That night they were taken up by unknown persons and their heads severed from the bodies and carried away, the bodies being restored to the graves. Maythes was born and raised near Maysville, Ky. He had been a bold and desperate highway robber for many years. Crouch was young in his wicked calling and lived in Cincinnati, where he was respectably connected, having at one time been a member of the police force of that city. In a few days after the lynching his wife and some friends came out and got his headless body and conveyed it home, where it was buried in a manner befitting his former relations as a man of respect.


Grant county, in respect to its population, wealth, fertility of soil, and agricultural produce, is far above an average county in the State. Its population, taking the same method we did at first, is 14,775. In the northern part of the county there are some fine mineral springs, the water being composed of iron, magnesia and salts. Out of a large number of soldiers of the war of the Revolution and war of 1812, the following are living: Chas. W. Porter, Larkin Webster, John Ferguson, Elijah Sturgeon, James Wilson, and Jeremiah Morgan.



Revolutionary War
William Arnold, John Lawless,
Bennett Willliams, Daniel Sewards,
William Morton, John Jump,
Joseph Spencer, John Zinn,
Jacob New, ____ Rose,
Hezekiah Thomas, Aaron Adams,


Soldiers Died in the War of 1812
George Williams, Ichabod Ashcraft,
Martin Speagle, Lewis Rose,
William Walker, Isaac Biddle,
Zachariah Dunn, Jeremiah Sturgeon,
William Wright, William Littell,
William Gray, William Cook,
Robert Jump, Joseph Jump,
Valentine Jump, Andy Manear,
Benjamin Hockins, Noah Clifton,
Eli Osborne, George Huffman,
Abram Workman, Joseph Zinn,
Woodson Parrish, Thomas Wilson,
Isaac Rutledge, John Hendrix,
James Ashcraft, John Arnold,
William Hogan, Samuel Hicks,
Anderson Simpson, Willis Marksbury,
James Howe, John W. Halladay,
Harmon Childers, John White,
John Page, Charles Ruddell,
Lewis Lawless, Spencer Berkley,
William McDowell  


Members of the Legislature from Grant county - Senate: Benjamin B. Johnson, 1841-1844; O. P. Hogan, 1848-50, 53-57; O. D. McManama, 1874-75.

House of Representatives: John Marksbury, 1824-26; James Elliston, 1824; Nathanial Henderson, 1827; Abraham Jonas, 1828, 29, 31, and '33; Asa Vallandingham, 1830; Lewis Myers, 1835, 38-45, 65 to '67; Charles Ruddell, 1836; Napoleon B. Stephens, 1839, 40; Peter Ireland, 1841, 46, 47; O. P. Hogan, 1842, 43; Wm. Hendrix 1844; Squire Lucas, 1848; T. J. McGinnis, 1849; Andrew S. Linn, 1850; O. J. Lindsay, 1851-53; Alfred Kendall 1853-55, 57-59, 67 to '69; James Kinslaer, 1855-57; Alex. Dunlap, 1859-61; Wm. S. Rankin, 1861-63; E. H. Smith, 1863-65; Wm. G. Conrad, 1871, 73; and Jerry Poor, 1875-77.

List of some of the prominent lawyers who have practiced at the Grant county bar previous to the year 1825; Wm. Brant, Wm. K. Wall, Edward Holder, Richard M. Grimes, Henry Warfield, Thomas Grimes, Richard T. Wheat, D. M. Payne, Samuel Todd, Edward S. Armstrong, Nicholas D. Coleman, James O'Hara, Wm. Frazier, Thos. Hub, J. T. Robinson, E. T. Johnson, W. B. Chambers, Edward T. Vawter, Edward F. Vawter, W. W. Southgate, and Jas. H. Birch.

Since 1825: Garret Davis, Charles Moorehead, Thos. N. Lindsay, G. W. Craddock, John W. Stephenson, J. C. Breckinridge, James Beck, W. S. Arthur, J. F. Fisk, W. S. Rankin, John G. Carlisle, Andrew Lynn, N. Burrell, J. S. Boyd, Harry Ward, M. C. Johnston, James Pryor, W. S. Pryor, E. T. Nutall, J. S. Scott, Geo. C. Drane, Allen Duvall, M. J. Dudley, John B. Payne, Chas. Duncan, J. D. Lillard, J. J. Landram, Harvey Myers, John W. Finnell. V. T. Chambers, W. W. Ireland, J. T. Simon, W. P. Thorne, Jo. O. Terrell, J. Q. Ward, R. F. Riddell, R. C. Green, J. C. Furnish, J. b. Finnell, R. Q. Sleet, W. J. Perrin, M. M. Benton, E. T. Masterson, W. P. C. Breckinridge, D. W. Voorhees, Pat Major, T. F. Hallan, Benj. F. Piatt, and H. E. Hannshell.

Lawyers who lived in Grant county at the present time: E. H. Smith, O. M. McManama, J. M. Collins, A. G. DeJarnette, W. N. Hogan, Wm. Fenley, W. T. Simmons, W. W. Dickerson, L. L. Schwabacker, J. C. Kilgour, John Carnes, C. C. Cram, P. E. Shepherd, and J. L. Dougherty.

We will only add a few words in regard to our Centennial Fourth. Early that morning the people began to pour in from all directions-some on horseback, others in wagons, buggies and carriages, until the pike above and below where the Celebration was held was literally packed and jammed with vehicles of conveyance. A large and convenient stand was erected in the grove, before mentioned, which was neatly and tastefully festooned with cedar and other evergreens by the young ladies of Williamstown and Dry Ridge. In front of the stand was Kentucky's motto in large letters, worked in cedar: “United we stand, divided we fall.” At eleven o'clock a crowd had assembled of between three and four thousand people, to which splendid music was discoursed by the Falmouth Silver Cornet Band. In all this vast assembly not a single disturbance of any kind occurred, and not a single person seen under the influence of liquor. Commodious arrangement had been made, by the committee appointed for that purpose, for the convenience and pleasure of the large crowd, and the politest order maintained by the Marshall and his deputies.

Programme of the Day

Music. Prayer by Rev. Thomas Rankin.
Music. Reading Declaration of Independence by Urial Harrison.
Music. Reading History of the County, by R. H. Elliston.
Music. Dinner.
Music. Oration, by I. L. Schwabacker.
Music. Oration, by Judge J. M. Collins.
Music. Extemporaneous speech, by J. M. Lowe, of Missouri.
Music. Extemporaneous speech, by Judge O. P. Hogan.

After which the people returned to the respective homes, feeling that it had not only been a day of pleasure but of profit-a grand reunion among themselves, in which all petty prejudices and past difference of opinions were forgotten, some of them perhaps realizing that they would not again be permitted to enjoy another Centennial Celebration. And thus closed the one-hundredth Anniversary of American Independence in Grant county, a day long to be remembered by all.

“The union of hearts, the union of hands,
The union of States none can sever;
The union of lakes, the union of lands,
The Flag of our Union forever.”


  1840 1850 1876
Value of lands, 608,908 1,1126,474 2,129,565
Value of town lots, 50,897 46,215 166,792
No. horses and mares 1,640 2,416 4,509
Value of horses and mares 70,376 92,875 202,102
No. Mules, 58 64 815
Value of mules, 1,669 1,857 28,519
Number of cattle, 2,230 1,774 5,994
Value of cattle over $50 12,749 14,206 136,503
Total value of all taxable property 977,058 1,582,573 3,118,195
White males over 21 years of age, 698 1,323 2,664
Value under Equalization Law, 108,858 121,256 362,045
Value Stores, 10,100 20,600 87,610



List of County Officers

Circuit Judge, George C. Drane
Criminal Judge, O. D. McManama
County Judge, W. T. Simmons
Master Commissioner, W. G. Frank
Circuit Clerk, James T. Willis
Sheriff, James P. Webb
Deputy Sheriff, William T. Clark
County Clerk, Robert H. Elliston
County Attorney, W. W. Dickerson
County Jailor, Thomas Stroud
County Coroner, James Price
County Assessor, William H. Kuhn
County School Commissioner, H. D. Stratton
County Surveyor, William H. Crouch


Justices of the Peace

Williamstown H. Hall and G. W. Tucker. S. A. Merrell, Constable.
Cordova J. K. Northcutt and N. C. Morgan H. C. Jones, Constable
Downingsville Squire Childers and Milton Jump Allen Holbrook, Constable
Flat Creek J. D. Elliston and William Buckhardt Lewis Ford, Constable.
Mt. Zion Walter McBee and H. L. Blanchett Ezra Webster
Crittenden T. O. B. Northcutt and Hughey Beard E. K. McClure, Constable
Stewartsville B. P. Clark and E. K. Lummis G. W. Evans, Constable
Cross Roads Philip Kennedy and John Robinson Carter Simpson, Constable
Corinth W. P. Estes and Andrew Beard. W. B. Ramey, Constable



Police Judge, Geo. J. Burgess; Marshal, R. w. Westover; Treasurer, P. T. Zinn, City Attorney, I. L. Schwabacker; Clerk, Clarence C. Nesbit.

Board of Trustees- A. G. DeJarnette, Chairman; Dr. J. M. Wilson, N. H. Jeffers, R. H. Collins, J. T. McGinnis and H. H. Tully.


Police Judge, Littleton Fenley; Treasurer, E. K. McClure; Clerk, G. W. Follett.

Board of Trustees- N. M. Lloyd, Chairman, James Ranton, J. M. Collins, Dr. J. M. Fenley, A. S. Byers, and W. H. Hays.




Background on this piece is here.

We are deeply indebted and owe a big thanks to Lorrie Laskey for typing the last half of this section, and putting it into html, no less.  Thanks, Lorrie!